A Pair of Wings for  Spiritual Growth in Zen Counseling for Females

I have always felt fortunate to be a pro-oriental person in my cultural growth and enrichment in different parts of Asia and Africa, while being influenced by oriental culture and also trained in east-west humanities at the same time. Thus I can use both dimensions to guide my own growth or work.

Of course, like many people, I was initially confused by the surface of the two, and felt a conflict in the heart. For example, traditional psychoanalysis in psychology seems to encourage “sex” and “aggression,” while Eastern Zen requires “abstinence” and “aggression.” It seems that the direction is completely reversed. Across East and West, I felt a little bit divided and tangled for a while.

With the deepening of understanding and internal integration, I can see more of the commonalities between the two, and find that they can complement each other and promote a person’s growth and maturity more effectively.

  1. The Same Goal

a) inner freedom

Suzuki Dazhuo summed up the goal of Zen as: the art of recognizing the nature of one’s own life, it is the way from shackles to freedom, it liberates our natural power, prevents us from being mad or disabled, and obtains the ability to be happy and loving. By “crippled” he meant the psychic abilities and the potential of reality being shackled and weakened, as one of my listeners, X describes, stuck in an iron bucket.

The goals of psychology, Freud also summed up: love and work.

Both are paths that allow us to experience less pain, freedom of mind, and greater ability to form relationships and realize the potential of life. Although psychology started with the study of mental illness, first of all, it is difficult to say that we are completely healthy, and secondly, through continuous development, psychology has also expanded to a deeper level, that is, it can help a person achieve self-realization.

The goal itself, if we compare it with a line, the leftmost is autism or madness, a person has lost his freedom, lost the connection to the external world, and is caught in the inner chaos or maze, and the rightmost is open Enlightenment, completely liberated from any spiritual bondage. Psychology usually goes to mental health, or stops without obvious conflict and pain, and Zen is a step forward, pointing directly to enlightenment.

Psychological counseling is aimed at the content of the subconscious mind that causes pain, and carries out targeted awareness work. It may not work on the entire subconscious mind. The goal of meditation is to be aware of the entire subconscious mind. The depth of psychology usually depends on the counselor. If it is an enlightened counselor, I believe that through dialogue, the listener can be brought to the position of enlightenment. The koans of Zen Buddhism record a large number of such dialogues.

b) no self

In this process, the two will also tend to one goal, no-self.

No-self is not no-self, but no ego-clinging. The goal of psychological counseling is to establish or discover a stable but fluid me. Elise, the former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, said at the CAPA meeting of Beijing University of China: There is no fixed me. Some people say that this is me, but it is actually a kind of me. Illusions, I am changing in every situation, sometimes I am happy, sometimes I am nervous, the goal of psychoanalysis is to accept every moment of me, see through those fantasies about “me”, and gain freedom of mind.

For example, A. feels that she is a bad person, and she is convinced of this, so she will be affected by this feeling everywhere in her life, and she will get rid of this “bad” feeling in counseling by understanding the source of this “bad” feeling and its meaning. This “persistence”.

There is some controversy about “self” and “no self” in the psychological circle, I think this is caused by the different understanding of the concept itself. No-self, in fact, is to reduce the ego-clinging caused by fear (called “fixation” in psychology), and then gradually form a healthier “self” on the realistic level – referring to the external identity, just like the Buddha , Bodhisattva, and other saints, they all have solid, powerful identities.

Lao Tzu said that to thwart its sharpness, to resolve its disputes, to be with its light and its dust, is to let go of ego and resolve those edges and corners, and to have a more harmonious interaction with the external world, thus “doing nothing and stay actionless towards the side of concerns”. Confucius also said that the ruler, the minister, the minister, the father, the son – all that means that the emperor should look like an emperor, and a father should look like a father. He also said that this self, this identity, needs to be upheld and able to bear. Yes, this is precisely to let go of those attachments to self-phantasies, so that you can really play your role, just like a depressed mother may bring psychological trauma to her child, because she is trapped in her own pain, Inability to effectively drive a certain role of the “self”.

In Zen Buddhism, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva said that how the other person should be saved, that is, how to speak, also expresses that in the case of a highly developed mind, the “self” can be flexibly changed according to the situation.

Therefore, what we often say is to establish “self” and let go of “self”, which is actually one thing, but the connotations of the two “selfs” are different. What we need to build is an external functional self, that is, a flexible and adaptable self. Roles, such as I want to become a responsible counselor, a son who can care about his parents, etc., let go of the “attachment” formed by greed, hatred and delusion in oneself, establishing and letting go are the same thing, both are to understand The truth of body and mind, aware of the core influence of one’s life – the subconscious mind, is also building up when you let go. The old one begins to disintegrate when it emerges, and the new one grows and stabilizes at the same time. This is the charm of the mind.

2 The Same Path

It may be a little surprising that both paths are actually the same. The goals are happiness and freedom, love and work, and the paths are all:

1) Less Pain

2) Awareness of the subconscious mind

3) The attitudes adopted are also mindfulness.

a) Mindfulness

It is important to face suffering with a mindful attitude, both in meditation and in psychology. The process of growth, mainly speaking, is also a process of relearning to live with pain, and gaining insight and learning from it.

In psychological counseling, the counselor will first judge the state of the client, decide whether to increase the stability of the “self” (psychological term), and then accompany the client to face pain. While meditation may be more radical, mindfulness requires that you always face your “pain” with a non-judgmental attitude, no matter whether the pain comes from the body or the mind. Of course, being aggressive doesn’t mean you can do it right away. It took me more than two years of practice before I started to be open to painful feelings. Psychology has a clearer empirical step at this point. When a person is weak or extremely confused, supportive treatment is the first priority, rather than requiring confrontation.

During my first Vipassana meditation in India, I meditated for 1 hour as required in Hanuman Temple. After breaking through the piercing pain in my legs and the anxiety all over my body, I suddenly gained confidence, no matter what happened outside. Anything, I can face it by transforming my inner self; similarly, in the consultation, the listener’s pain is given space, and when the listener is not in a hurry to eliminate it, she finds that the pain is bearable, and starts Become more confident – if the answer is within, then there is no need to constantly panic in the ever-changing external world to search for a solution in vain.

 Mindfulness is a state of being aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, feelings, and the surrounding environment in an instant, present state. Translating it into righteous thoughts can be a bit misleading. There is no difference between “righteous” or “unrighteous” thoughts. No matter what thoughts or feelings, what you need is non-judgmental awareness. Therefore, the translation I prefer is called “full consciousness”.

Whether in consultation or meditation, such an attitude is required, and because we modern people place too much importance on the role of knowledge, logic, and thinking, we are often immersed in thinking, causing a lot of trouble, losing awareness of ourselves or A deep understanding of the subconscious mind.

Experiences and feelings are highly valued in both counseling and meditation. Both Zen masters and counselors will appropriately interrupt each other’s habit of “obsessive thinking”. For example, a client said that when his husband reads a book by himself but doesn’t talk to her after getting off work at night, she thought he is too indifferent. Or he doesn’t like her at all, and they shouldn’t have got married at all. When he knew her, he didn’t care too much about her… The counselor will not reinforce these judgments, but pay attention to feelings. He may say: Husband Without talking to you, you feel lonely and left out.

The Zen master pushes this point to the extreme. He may completely cut off the disciple’s thinking, allow the disciple to gain insight in a state of chaos, or divert the disciple’s attention from thinking to the experience of life.

There is a koan in Zen of “go to eat tea”. For the first time, a monk asked an old monk of Zhaozhou about Zen. The latter said: “Go to eat tea!” Soon another monk who had been there before came, and the old monk of Zhaozhou also said to have tea. The supervisor did not understand and asked: Why did the newcomer let him have tea, and the long-term resident also let him have tea? The old monk Zhaozhou called the superintendent, and the superintendent agreed, and the old monk Zhaozhou said, “You also have tea!”

b) Reducing pain

Whether in counseling or meditation, it is necessary to settle the body and mind first, improve the stability of the “self”, and reduce the concentration and intrusion of defilements. Meditation sometimes calls those pre-existing, repetitive defilements “karma,” and eliminating karma is an important step in the practice.

First of all, the attitude of mindfulness can effectively reduce anxiety, because most people deal with painful patterns, but instead create more pain, such as drinking alcohol to avoid sadness, and establishing chaotic sexual relationships in order to reduce anxiety and loneliness. In addition, during the consultation, the consultant sorts out and presents the client’s thinking and coping modes through empathy and feedback, so that the client can begin to reduce some unsuitable beliefs and behaviors. Meditation achieves the same goal through “precepts” and “concentration” methods such.

If we do not interfere, our troubles will be repeated like a movie. These repeated content will continue to strengthen the connection of neurons, making the power of troubles stronger and stronger. Meditation is called habit. The ingenious solution of the counselor, as well as the alternative methods in meditation, can alleviate or cut off these inertial reactions and achieve the purpose of reducing the concentration of pain.

When I was in a very low state for a while, some unsafe thoughts often popped up in my mind. At that time, I just started to practice, and I insisted on reading the Diamond Sutra twice a day. After realizing “the mind should be born from nowhere”, the body and mind gradually stabilized. Later, in the nightmare, he will also chant the Buddha’s name to drive away the monsters in the dream.

During the consultation on reproductive medicine programs, for example, the client is always worried that she is abnormal and painful, because some immoral thoughts have been circling in her mind, and the counselor simply replied, “Everyone will have such thoughts, this is normal.” , allowing the client to reduce pain.

Li Zixun once talked about the shortest case he had ever done. After a boss confided to him the problems in his life, Li looked at him seriously: Do you really think this is a problem? The boss realized a lot of things.

c) Awareness of the subconscious mind

Of course, the most important job of the two is to be aware of the subconscious mind, and then to release the inhibition. I often hear clients use words such as seal and split to describe their feelings. These words vividly show the existence of inhibition and conflict in the subconscious mind. . The subconscious mind contains our fears, desires, powers, creativity, or the drive for our entire being.

To be aware of the subconscious mind is to unlock these powers and creativity, and to reduce the interference of subconscious suffering in real life.

In psychology, this process is called “subconscious awareness”, but there is also a misunderstanding in it, that is, the consciousness is good, and the subconscious is a dark destructive force, but in fact, consciousness is also the content generated by the subconscious, and it may even be possible. is a twisted expression. For example, the consciousness of a patient with obsessive-compulsive thinking is, after being engulfed by the conflict of the subconscious, through exhaustion or self-blame, etc., trying to find a sense of certainty, finding a balance between body and mind in vain and despair.

Therefore, when we say awareness of the subconscious, we do not use thinking to understand, but the ability to perceive, a comprehensive ability that combines experience and thinking. Therefore, learning psychological knowledge will not really relieve people. That is because it is only the expansion of logical thinking. Logical thinking can easily become a defense tool of the subconscious, and it does not have the function of awareness.

Kohut called this process of awareness “transference”, that is, the process in which the subconscious emerges with the help of consultation – there are some things that have been unclear and unclear, and are affecting their own life. With the help of the situation of consultation, gradually surfaced and was seen by himself.

For example, after being repeatedly non-empathetic to a relationship counselor, I came to realize that what I need is to be understood, and when I realize this, I cry, and when I cry, I know (Knowing wholeheartedly, not just thinking) This is what I’ve been longing for subconsciously, and this will come to the fore. Because I didn’t realize this before, or I hid it, I was especially afraid of being criticized in interpersonal communication, or eager to crusade those “hard and cold” and “ruthless” people.

When you know your subconscious needs, you realize that it is not the fault of others that you experience being hurt, but your own needs are not being met, causing frustration.

Meditation is a deep awareness of the subconscious mind through the awareness of the thoughts that arise.

The way to practice Vipassana is to sit there and observe the feelings of your body and mind all the time without judging. As your mind becomes more and more quiet and your observations become more and more subtle, you will clearly know what you are thinking and what you have. Feelings, some subconscious will also “emerge”.

This kind of cultivation will also increase the ability to perceive in life. For example, after rejecting the flyer, I suddenly “emerged” the image of being attacked by it.

Usually in our daily life, because our minds are too scattered, we can’t be aware of the subtleties, and most of the contents cannot be realized, but they still exist and affect us – this is the subconscious mind.

 It sounds like a deep fear in the subconscious – when the mind wants to break free from all constraints, it must pass through this a deep fear. Spiritual progress will also be accompanied by fear of the unknown, just as in The Shawshank Redemption, those who have been in prison for decades and have become accustomed to prison life feel fear when they are released from prison.

3. Different Tools

Zen and psychology have the same goals, the same paths, and the same view of the world. Zen says impermanence, psychology says accepting uncertainty, Zen says that the world is manifested by the mind, and psychology also believes that our perception of ourselves determines our perception of the world.

Based on different cultural and developmental backgrounds, the two have different methods, just like different means of transportation, but they can take us to the same place. A targeted choice between the two will make us go more smoothly.

a) Zen masters and counselors

Both are led by someone, whether it is a counselor or a Zen master, they are fulfilling two functions, first as a guide, and second as an authority, it will give people a sense of stability. There are many similarities in the way of work between a counselor and a Zen master, such as not evaluating, not controlling, etc., love to come, love to walk, he only does what he can do, and only gives you what you are ready to accept. But there are also differences. The consultant is more patient companionship and exploration. On the other hand, Zen masters are more casual, sometimes even beating and drinking.

Of course, I guess that some people may be injured by the Zen master when their personalities are not strong enough. Because in counseling, the counselor will be keenly aware of the client’s state and give a more gentle and empathetic response. According to the records of Zen Buddhism, Zen masters may not be empathetic.

He pays attention to his roots in his meditation practice. Huineng advocates the meditation method of enlightenment. Huineng didn’t hurt his self-esteem, but replied that I, a savage, have the same body as yours, and of course I can become a Buddha. Root is related to the personality in psychological counseling. People who are mentally healthy enough have better root. And people with narcissism problems, because they are too confused, or too sensitive, easy to get hurt or feel meaningless, so they have no way to learn from Zen masters well. In Freud’s era, he also took people with narcissism problems. Helpless, consider them “unanalyzable” because they have unrealistic needs, such as expecting a specific response from the counselor, or seeing the counselor as a perfect person at one time and too bad at another, It’s also easy to get angry at the counselor’s reaction.

Contemporary therapists have clearer, more reliable responses to the “unreal” needs of people with narcissism problems, and for those who see themselves as “perfect teachers,” the therapist accepts this projected glory until it slowly internalize the power of the client; give appropriate responses and adequate acceptance to those who need constant confirmation and affirmation. If these people encounter the Zen master, they will be hit with a stick, or they will be reprimanded, such people may be really hurt, more confused, lose their confidence, or leave the Zen master.

Of course, Zen masters are wise, and they can teach according to the situation, and do not beat people casually, but there may be no psychological counseling, and there is a clear healing process. I have also noticed that some practitioners actually practice with a “complex”. This “complex” permeates their words and deeds and affects the process of their practice, such as excessive seeking, or strong suspicion of others, or superstitious belief in authority. Wait, these contents will hinder the practice for a long time. In fact, it can be eliminated step by step through consultation.

b) Dialogue and practice

The methods of practice include chanting, walking meditation, etc., so that your mind is focused and quiet. Psychological counseling is more about forming understanding through dialogue. The former increases awareness, the latter eliminates repression. both are valid

Cultivation with strong afflictions may make a person very slow on the path of cultivation, like driving a boat, sailing on a sea full of ice, and a glance from others may make one’s mind wander. This kind of situation is more suitable for consultation at the same time, to solve the subconscious depression in a targeted manner, and to stabilize one’s own state of mind.

Psychological counseling is more targeted to solve problems, especially interpersonal problems. The subconscious power that exists in it can be more realistically surfaced through the interaction with the counselor, so that it can be recognized and resolved, the repressed content is presented, and the life is Power is unlocked, fear and shame are weakened and eliminated, and a person becomes more free and active, which helps to improve “root”, eliminate “karma”, and assist the process of spiritual practice.

The practice method can reduce the concentration of troubles and improve the awareness in the consultation, so it also helps to form an effective understanding in the consultation.

Rowing on the water, driving on the road, these two, in specific use, can be matched at the same time, effectively promoting a person’s growth.

If a person’s awareness develops to a very subtle level, he can be aware of his own thoughts at any time, and psychological counseling “should” be unnecessary.

4. Conclusion

Back to my original confusion, should we express our aggressiveness?

From the perspective of mindfulness, we need to be aware of any of our emotions without judgment, so we do not deny that we have dissatisfaction, anger or even resentment and hatred, but from the psychological level, we need to deeply understand the meaning of emotions, which correspond to to our needs and wants. What matters more is the need itself, not the emotion itself.

From a meditative perspective, anger is just a powerful note in the flow of life that we transcend, observe, tolerate, or resolve.

Winnicott believes that the baby needs to be aggressive to show the power of his life. If the mother does not retaliate against the baby for this, or is frightened, the baby will find that his anger can not destroy the world, it is not so terrible . The core element, I think, is still to make infants realize that their emotions are not so scary, so as to be more able to accommodate, tolerate and integrate their emotions, and at the same time know that there is a difference between the inner world and the outer world. A boundary – that is, emotions are wrapped in one’s own skin, which can be responsible and managed by oneself, without the responsibility of others, and on the other hand, do not have to take responsibility for the emotions of others.

Therefore in counseling, the counselor also tolerates the client’s anger, demonstrates to the client that anger is not terrible and acceptable, and explores the meaning behind the anger, repairs the client’s depression on this emotion, or transforms anger Inappropriate, hostile and destructive behavior.

However, interpersonal communication in life is not the relationship between the baby and the mother, nor the relationship between the client and the counselor. I think that in life, it is necessary to practice the concept of “non-violence” and practice “practice all good and all evil.” Don’t do it” meditation teaching.

In “Nonviolent Communication,” Dr. Marshall said that criticism and aggressive behavior imply our values ​​and needs, and if we express it in an aggressive way, it is likely to invite hostility and make it more difficult to meet our needs. Even when the person being attacked is forced to make concessions, it is usually not voluntarily. If they pander to us out of fear or guilt, sooner or later, we will find that the other person is less friendly. Of course, they also pay the price of succumbing to external or internal pressure, likely to make them resentful and self-loathing.

Whether it is psychological counseling or Vipassana meditation, we can see that our emotions and feelings are closely related to our own values ​​and needs. That is to say, what we call “boundaries” is the most basic of emotional boundaries. Individuals are responsible for their own emotions. In this way, our relationship with others is always a cooperative relationship, and the external or internal needs are satisfied with each other. Through non-violent communication, we can seek common ground while reserving differences, and most effectively establish a relationship of mutual respect and satisfaction.

Emotions can be expressed. By expressing emotions, our interaction with each other is more real, and it is more conducive to mutual understanding and cooperation. However, expressing emotions and aggression cannot be confused. “I’m angry” and “You’re a piece of shit” are obviously completely different ways of communicating. I am more in favor of the former’s sincerity and awareness of one’s own emotions, while the latter has lost the opportunity to bear their own emotions and understand their own needs, and regard evaluation as a fact, creating more confusion and pain in interpersonal relationships, which is unnecessary .

At this point, I believe that the two have come to a point. Since our experience needs to be responsible for ourselves, but we also need to cooperate with the people around us, communicate frankly, and be kind to others, which is the most beneficial attitude to each other.


“Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism”, Suzuki Tazuo

Analysis of the Self, Kohut

“Experience in the clinical work of obsessive-compulsive disorder”, Liu Yue

Nonviolent Communication, P17, Marshall Rosenberg

Intersubjective Psychotherapy, Peter Buirski

“The Sixth Patriarch’s Altar Sutra”, collected by Fahai

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